Teaching Form to the Very Young

Kindergarten is a year of preparation. It’s a year to teach a variety of repertoire and allow students to experience a mixture of songs, games, instruments, folk dances, and other activities. Every concept seems to stem from the idea of same or different: singing vs. speaking, fast vs. slow, loud vs. quiet, higher vs. lower, steady vs. unsteady, long vs. short. It makes sense, then, that students can begin learning about form through listening examples and folk songs from class. Below are three examples of folk songs I use in Kindergarten.

Hot Cross Buns is a wonderful example to introduce form in short, four-beat phrases. Here’s my process:

  1. I sing the song as students keep a beat with me.
  2. We draw the phrases together, from left to right. (The teacher always demonstrates backwards.) I tell them that when we draw phrases, they can imagine drawing rainbows in the air. For each phrase, we put up one more finger.
  3. After we identify that there are four phrases, I sing the first phrase and draw an apple on the board. We determine that the first letter of “apple” is “a.” I write that next to the apple.
  4. Then I sing phrase two and ask if it sounds the same or different. Since it’s the same, I draw another apple under the first.
  5. Starting at the beginning of the song, I sing the first two phrases while pointing at the apples in turn, then point at the blank space below the apples while singing phrase three. Is it the same, or different? Hearing that it is different, I draw a banana and label it with a “b.”
  6. Finally, I sing through all the phrases and ask them if the fourth phrase sounded like an apple or a banana. I draw and label the apple and “a.”aaba form for Hot Cross Buns

Cut the Cake is another great song for Kindergarten students, and it uses a “c!” apple_banana_cherries_abac1

The song All Around the Buttercup could be taught with two eight-beat phrases, or four four-beat phrases. Personally, I like to teach it in four-beat chunks even though I analyzed it as eight-beat phrases in my collection. With that in mind, think about the phrase “one, two, three” and “just choose me.” One moves up, do re mi, while the other moves down, mi re do. When drawing the bananas on the board, I always ask students if it is exactly the same. Usually they recognize that one pattern goes up and the other goes down. I draw the second banana backwards. It can also be labeled b’ (prime). As I sing those phrases, I trace the contour of the bananas to further reinforce the melodic contour.
apple_banana_form_abab'1
One more thing to note about using fruit as a bridge to form. If a song has an a’ (prime) phrase, I usually draw a green apple instead of red and tell the students it is still an apple, but it’s a little different.

How do you teach form to your youngest students? 

Happy Teaching!

Listening for ta-dimi

My third graders just learned ta-dimi, an eighth note followed by two sixteenths, so we listened to “Fossils” from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns this week. My students have heard this piece in the past. In second grade they heard it and read the first four beats of rhythm: takadimi ta takadimi ta.

It’s always interesting to bring back a piece they know and go deeper musically. This week they read the first eight beats of rhythm and listened for that repeating motive throughout the piece. Did they mind hearing it again? Not at all! They were very excited and the discussion that followed was more insightful, probably because they were already familiar with the piece.

For those of you who are looking for visual aids, I’ve posted the first four and first eight beats of rhythm for “Fossils” on my Resources for Teacher page under Listening Examples, as well as the rhythms to “Marche du Toréador” from Carmen. (Thanks for pointing out this piece, Karen Fincher!)

"Marche du Toreador" rhythms

“Marche du Toreador” rhythms

Book Review – Martin & Mahalia: his words, her song

Book: Martin & Mahalia: his words, her song

Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney

Illustrator: Brian Pinkney

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2013

Martin & Mahalia: his words, her song is a nonfiction picture book with beautiful artwork, poetic language, and smooth, easy-to-read-aloud text. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson shared a united vision and reached audiences with their gifts of speech and music. This book touches on their youth, mentions the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and climaxes with the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It is rich in backmatter including author and illustrator notes, selected discography, and an illustrated timeline. I recommend sharing a recording of “We Shall Overcome (Album Version)” by Mahalia Jackson when sharing this book with your students.

Disclosures: I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked items and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted website.

More Listening Lessons – Schubert

The spring semester was very busy and I completed Orff-Schulwerk Level III right after school finished (Orff Certified!), so it’s taken me longer to follow up on listening lessons than I had planned. I’ll try to address the specific questions I received by email with one of my favorite listening examples, Rosamunde Overture by Schubert.

Students should hear musical examples and be allowed to listen to them for the pure sake of enjoyment. However, most need a reason to listen to the same piece again the following week or even a month later. Enter the musical transition, which is really just connecting content.

Rosamunde Overture by Schubert is a clear example of an eighth note followed by two sixteenths, henceforth referred to as ta-dimi. Typically my students hear this piece once before they know what ta-dimi is, and after presenting ta-dimi visually, I bring it back. How, you ask? Simple. Look at the other songs and games in your lesson. If you’ve recently presented ta-dimi, you’re probably using a good deal of repertoire that will provide a smooth transition. A few examples include:

How Many Miles to Babylon ta-dimi tadi tadi ta 

Wildcat (What Makes a Wildcat Wild?) ta-dimi tadi ta ta

Mama Buy Me a Chiney Doll tadi ta-dimi tadi ta

Hogs in the Cornfield ta-dimi tadi ta-dimi tadi

My Mother Baked a Nice Seedy Cake ta-dimi tadi ta-dimi ta 

Let’s take the last example and get to the listening a few different ways:

1. Aurally: The teacher says the first phrase (also the title of the game) while clapping or playing the rhythm. The students might echo the teacher. The teacher asks students to aurally deduce the rhythm. If your students aren’t used to doing this or have trouble, break it down for them! Isolate the rhythms of each beat. How many sounds were on beat 4? etc. Now back to our transition for the listening. Tell the students you’re going to switch two of the beats. Ask them to echo you and they’ll get it much more quickly. Your rhythm becomes ta-dimi ta-dimi tadi ta. Ask the students to listen for this rhythm pattern in Schuber’ts Rosamunde Overture.

2. Visually: The procedure is very similar, but I’m assuming there’s a four-beat pattern visible on the board or projector. It might be the first four beats of a game song you’ve just used, or maybe you asked your students to play a four-beat ostinato several times throughout the class. The idea is the same as above, but in this case, students will actually see the rhythms change. Consider the following ways:

  • Reading: The teacher changes the rhythms around and students read the phrase from the board. Then they listen to the song and signal when they hear it.
  • Mistake Recognition: The teacher performs a four-beat pattern on the board but makes a mistake or two. The students must identify the mistakes, come to the board, and make corrections. (I use laminated rhythm cards to make this smoother and faster.)
  • Writing: In pairs or individually, students write four-beat rhythm patterns. If you take the time to create the packets and pass them out, take a few minutes to do a writing activity as a warm-up. I clap a four-beat pattern (usually one or two examples from the songs above). The students clap it back. They identify the rhythms as a class and then arrange their cards accordingly. After this warm-up, the students create their own four-beat rhythm patterns and perform them for a neighbor. Someone always comes up with the pattern I need for the listening. Allow the class to see and hear a few individual examples, but then make that child feel spectacular by pointing out that he/she created the same rhythm that  a famous composer used in our listening example. Quietly put your things away while you listen to Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture. 

3. Focusing on ta-dimi: If you’ve presented ta-dimi and want to focus on that, you might show the first 16 measures and have the students highlight or circle the new rhythm. Personally I would do this on my SMART board, calling students up a few at a time to quickly find them all. This also reinforces other concepts like beat and meter, and let’s face it, some students struggle with it.

My goal is to post something at least once a month during the school year. If there’s a topic or song you’re really interested in, there’s a good chance I’ll include it if you email or leave a comment.

Happy Summer!

Rosamunde Overture by Schubert

Listening Lessons

All of my listening lessons tie into my regular lessons in some way. Sometimes they relate to a rhythmic element, a related pitch or scale, or even form, such as rondo. The very best listening examples have a clear melody the students can sing. Need examples? Certainly.

1. Mozart’s “Allegro” from Symphony no. 1 in Eb begins do mi so so so so so so so so mi do with the rhythms ta ta takadimi takadimi tadi

2. Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Song” from Peer Gynt begins so mi re do re mi so mi re do (all eighth notes)

3. Haydn’s “Andante” from Surprise Symphony no. 94 begins do do mi mi so so mi with the rhythms tadi tadi tadi ta (I use this in kindergarten for movement, in first grade for rhythm, and again in second grade for melody.)

How do I get to the listening from the folk songs? Musical transitions, of course. My students seem to enjoy it when I make a “mistake” from a pattern on the board and they have to identify what I did wrong. Another strong way is to simply change one beat at a time of a reading example from earlier in the lesson. If your students do not know the new concept yet, the students might clap an ostinato while I clap, hum, or play the melody of the listening example.

Learning about the composer doesn’t have to be dull, either. I have three initial ideas to share about this.

1. Use the Fandex Field Guide for composers to show a quick picture of the composer and tell a little about him/her.

2. Prepare two to three paragraphs of information about the composer and make enough copies for half your class. Students pair up. One student reads the first paragraph while the other listens and then tells two facts they remember hearing. The second person reads the next paragraph and the first person must tell two facts. Make sure the person listening is not looking at the paper. Come back as a group, hand in papers, and open the floor for a student-led discussion about the composer. My fifth graders really enjoy this activity!

3. Type out the composer information in sentence segments. Make two sets. Cut these into strips. Laminate. Put a piece of tape on each one and tape one to each student’s back. (Prepare them in advance by taping to the side of your desk.) Students will mill around and tell one another which fact is on their backs. They should try to find the other person with their matching fact. When all pairs are found, they will tell the class their fact from memory. (Every person they come to should read their fact aloud and vice versa, so this should not be a problem.)

Listening examples will be the next category of visual aids I add to the website. Are there any you’d specifically like to see posted?

Do you do anything special to make learning about composers fun and memorable?